The History and Future of Cybergoth, the UK's Most Maligned Subculture
Too creepy for the ravers, too neon for the goths, cybergoths occupied a new space entirely, but as their numbers decline, what's next?
You're walking around Brighton North Laine and from the corner of your eye, a shop window flashes with thigh-high furry boots and 3D goggles on fluorescent faerie robots. Or perhaps you're visiting Camden Market, with its £5 bang bang chicken and faux Moroccan bowls. There, as always, is Cyberdog. Inside, space dresses, UV bras and BDSM-inspired harnesses line the walls. A cybergoth with a huge head of coloured dreads sashays to a relentless EDM remix of Dappy's 'No Regrets'.
Cyberdog started in 1994, beginning as a small stall in Camden. Despite trends coming and going and clubbing experiencing a steady downturn, the brand has taken its rightful place in cultural history as the last outpost of the cybergoth. It was, after all, there at its conception and has been a key driver in its futuristic, alternative look. We might not see as many of its customers on the streets, but Cyberdog is holding on, and even expanding. It now has branches not just in Camden and Brighton, but in Manchester, Ibiza and Egypt.
It's at the very heart of its 2090 aesthetic that cybergoth is a thing of the future, not of the past, but where does it live now? Is it thriving or barely surviving?
Too creepy for the ravers, too neon for the goths, cybergoths occupied a new space entirely. With shaved eyebrows, coloured contacts and cyberlox – synthetic dreadlocks – they listened to industrial music or industrial-dance, a sub-genre of industrial typically at 140bpm and played at goth dance clubs. Not to be mistaken for the similar but distinctly separate rivetheads, who arose in the late 1980s, cybergoth was alien, otherworldly.
Eloise Adora and friends
As industrial metal adopted a repetitive beat that drew goths into club culture, the clothing followed suit. In a series on British Style Tribes for i-D, Cyberdog founder Terry Davy described being part of an emerging alternative scene. "I started going to clubs but I couldn't find the clothes that matched the music. I saw the UV backdrops in some of these clubs and I was like, 'I wanna glow like that.' So we started to do neon glow, off-the-wall trippy images." Soon this infiltrated industrial nights such as London's Slimelight at Electrowerkz where you almost had to dress like that to get in. "Original goths started to get into that scene because they liked the music. It was harder." By combining the latex and black BDSM stuff previously dominating the alt-dancefloor with neon, Davy helped establish a coherent nu-goth look. "I don't wanna say that we started that whole thing but in a way we probably did. They come from all over Europe really. Italy, France, Germany. Now they call themselves cybergoths."
Sarah Mitchell, 38, was an original cybergoth back in the mid to late 90s. "Cybergoth, for me, started via lots of different influences at the same time, as these things often do. I loved a comic called Tank Girl with a girl who wore socks on her arms and a Japanese fashion magazine called Fruits which was just pages of alternative Tokyo fashion. As a result of that, I was wearing big boots and little skirts or shorts." At the time she was living on the Isle of Wight, so Sarah absorbed the subculture through disparate sources. "Once I was old enough I'd go to this nightclub called Boilerroom, basically the only alternative night. I got into industrial and incorporated a heavier look with the bright colours I already wore. There were only a few people who dressed like me. But when I went to festivals on the mainland, there were plenty of people dressed like me. It was then I realised cybergoth was happening all across the country."
Without the internet, you had to DIY. "There were no YouTube cybergoths doing tutorials or online shops or anything, so you just got a mate who thought they knew how to do dreads with beeswax and a bit of backcombing. There was one hippy shop near me that sold hair dye and a few bits so I'd go there and once a year I'd go to Brighton with all my money saved up and go to Cyberdog and all the alt shops there," Sarah recalls.
The scene was strongest in London, and in Manchester and Liverpool, where the UK metal scene has always thrived. Jilly's in Manchester was a particular favourite. "For a lot of people, like me, we'd just be heavy on booze – WKD, crap like that. Everyone's tables would be chock-a-block with glasses. There was definitely a drug scene, though, which caused a divide," explains Sarah. "The cybergoths who were hardcore into industrial rave were thrashing around holding glowsticks, and a portion of cybergoths would do MDMA or coke. It was definitely an environment where you could chase that high if you wanted." Despite looking distinctly alien, their alignment with mainstream rave culture was clear.
Cybergoth began its decline in the late noughties. Jilly's shut down, as did much of Manchester's thriving clubbing scene, and organised raves became an anomaly. In the past ten years, half of the UK's nightclubs have closed due to a mix of increased policing, struggle for licenses and planning tensions.
Mike Schorler, spokesperson for Wave Gotik Treffen, the biggest goth festival in Europe, told VICE: "There used to be many more cybergoths, judging from obvious outfits, about four or five years ago. In recent years their number keeps decreasing." Their online presence is declining, too: the cybergoth subreddit has barely any updates and 'cybergoth confessions' Tumblr stopped posting two years ago. It's rare to see a flash of neon cyberlox or space goggles on the streets anymore – even in Camden. Could it be that an end to rave signalled an end to the subculture?
It's more likely that it's just operating in a different space. People in cybergoth Facebook groups were reluctant to talk to me for this piece, and many of those who did wanted to do so anonymously. It's little surprise, given the way that cybergoth has been ruthlessly maligned. Eloise Adora, a 24-year-old alternative model and beauty therapist from London, says that the bad press has been collectively felt. "There have been so many times where we've been asked questions and then later on been portrayed negatively and in a pisstaking way. It happened a lot in Slimelight, where journalists pretended they were going to write positive things and instead did the opposite. The clubs – that one in particular – won't allow media to question people and will throw them out. A lot of us stay at home more than clubbing now anyway, partly because some things said were hurtful and untrue." Only last year, a cybergoth student was allegedly turned away from a local Wetherspoons, mocked by drinkers for being "transgender" and a "freak show" as she left.
The original cybergoths, meanwhile, have grown up. Sarah is now a mum to a small child who can't go clubbing anymore – "even if I could afford the time or money" – and can't keep up with expensive alternative brands. Cyberdog, forever in sync with the movement it spawned, now has a kid's range, and its social media accounts are littered with professional mother-and-child photoshoots. It started the hashtag #cybermums in the run up to Mother's Day, encouraging parents to share cute photos of themselves with kids.
But there are still younger cybergoths coming up to take the baton. Laura Aurora, 29, moved to London four years ago to seek out a cybergoth scene. "I worked for Cyberdog and met a load of people through that, going to clubs and festivals. I found a community of like-minded people and for the first time I felt like I fitted in somewhere. This gave me the opportunity to really play with my look and made it into what it is today." She wasn't disappointed with what she found in the capital. "There's Slimelight every Saturday and Club Antichrist every other month or so. Industrial music in general is very healthy and there are new bands and genres springing up all the time, so you get a good mix of age ranges. Industrial music doesn't have a limited shelf life like most commercial stuff tends to."
Naturally the look hasn't stayed chained to the one forged in the fires of Cyberdog and the 90s. Eloise has seen a vast turnover in trends around the scene since she was a teenager. "All the people I know have adapted to cyberpunk or cyberpop styles of clothing. I would even consider my style a mix of Japanese alt fashion and cyberpop as well as traditional cybergoth."
Previously cyberlocks and crin had been the staple hair style – hair pieces made of a variety of materials, from real hair to synthetic kankelon hair, plastic tubing, tubular crin, rubber and foam strips, belts. Nowadays, that's almost embarrassingly old-fashioned. "I swapped my old crin for neon dreads," explains Eloise. "The gas mask thing, people generally laugh at nowadays too. It was very 2004, but not in right now." Goggles, on the other hand, are just about acceptable.
One woman who makes synthetic dreads told VICE, "Everyone wears dreads – good business for me! Fluffy boots are still in and visors are cool nowadays." A male cybergoth, who preferred to remain anonymous, believes much of the change is to do with money. "The style has also suffered from the economic downturn as well as there not being so many people out on it. It really depends on the person and which circles you go out in though. The German scene has quite a penchant for black and PVC and a specific type of dancing, France is still very Gothic-influenced, London, as far as I can tell, has a lot of different influences thrown in."
Times change. Some teen girls who might have leapt in 15 years earlier have adopted updated riffs of a similar nature but with new musical influences. Seapunk, for example, is/was a Tumblr 'phenomenon' associated with Grimes, Azealia Banks and pop and R&B, according to the Chicago Reader, "all overlaid with a twinkly, narcotic energy that recalls new-age music and chopped and screwed hip-hop mix tapes in roughly equal measure". It utilised imagery from cyberpunk, combining it with aquatic seafoam colours and the internet's favourite symbolism of 2012: dolphins, smiley faces, psychedelic orbs. Or perhaps it lives in pastel goth, which mixes BDSM and gothic elements with baby pinks, blues and kawaii culture in a similar way to how cybergoth incorporated neon. Unlike seapunk, which had its day after a year or so in 2012, pastel goth has had endured for the past five years.
Cybergoth's legacy endures beyond more than just these internet-led teen fashion trends. Young British director Alex Taylor's new feature film Spaceship, premiering at this year's SXSW, centres around a cybergoth girl who goes missing and the father who searches for her. Grimes' recent video for "Kill V. Maim" shows the musician with a troupe of otherworldly creatures in goggles, neon, dreads and even multi-coloured crin – a clear nod towards cybergoth couture. By the time they're shown thrashing around, shots cutting between a club and industrial railings, it's nothing short of a besotted homage to the subculture. This video of cybergoths in an underpass resurfaces on the internet periodically, as a meme, in a Buzzfeed list, on Vine. The internet never forgets.
And of course, while Cyberdog still holds its strange, distinctive place on the UK alt fashion high street, and wide-eyed girls in their early twenties with pink suspenders and five-inch PVC platforms with thick dreads are still thrashing their way through a Dappy keychange, will cybergoth ever truly be dead?
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